OAM for Budd

By Simon Ruppert

Benalla’s Graeme Budd is the rural city’s latest OAM after being named on the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

Philanthropist, long-term Rotarian, former principal, Red Cross volunteer, Benalla Hospital board member — the list of Graeme’s achievements is long and varied.

As a local educator and principal at Benalla East Primary, for many years, Graeme honed the skills that would one day lead to his involvement in the Awake and Shine School in Bengal India.

Through his voluntary work in supporting that school he would form a close bond with its founder General Jimmy Singh.

That connection, and his work through Rotary International, has led to Graeme taking nearly 100 local people across to India to learn about, and assist in, the running of the school.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the work which has led to him being recognised with an OAM.

Graeme managed to spare five minutes on Monday, in between taking what he described as ‘‘constant’’ congratulatory phone calls, to pop into The Ensign office to talk about the award.

‘‘I suppose I’m very satisfied about it and quite proud,’’ Graeme said.

‘‘You wouldn’t believe the number of the phone calls I’ve had this morning, so for me it’s a really good achievement.

‘‘However, this doesn’t just honour one person.

‘‘There’s always a team of people and other individuals involved, not least of all my wife Joy.

‘‘I’ve known about the award for a few weeks but I’ve had to keep quiet and I wasn’t supposed to say anything until today.

‘‘I got a letter in the mail. It’s all done in a very formal, confidential way.

‘‘There was someone who nominated me, but he might not want me to mention him in the paper.’’

Graeme’s passion, and one of the main reasons he was selected to receive an OAM, is his work with the Awake and Shine School.

He doesn’t like to talk about himself for too long before getting onto the topic, which brings a smile from ear to ear.

‘‘All this came about thanks to this guy in India that I’ve been working with for more than 10 years,’’ he said.

‘‘He’s a former army man up in north west Bengal, General Jimmy Singh.

‘‘He is a Sikh man who always worked in the army having commanded about 55000 troops along the Indian-Chinese border in the Himalayas, and he wanted to put something back into his community.

‘‘He was in his 70s when I first met him and we struck up a good relationship.

‘‘He had built himself, with his own money, a school in the Samthar Valley in north-west Bengal.

‘‘I was looking for something I could do as part of my work with Rotary and I decided we could support him by sponsoring the students.’’

After his first trip out to Bengal Graeme returned to Rotary Benalla and asked a few members if they would be prepared to sponsor children.

‘‘I started off with about seven to eight Rotarians after that first discussion,’’ Graeme said.

‘‘Since then I have built it up to about 40 sponsors.

‘‘That includes Rotary and the wider Benalla community.

‘‘But to really make it successful my wife Joy and I started to take groups across to the school, so they could see for themselves what their sponsorship was paying for.

‘‘I think we’ve taken about five to six groups of 14 to 15 people across in the past 10 years.

In 2014 Graeme brought two teachers from the school to Benalla to learn how education in Australia works.

‘‘We introduced them to the education system from pre-school through to Year 6, so they’d have some idea of the way we work here.

‘‘The idea was to show them what they could aspire to achieve at the Awake and Shine School.

‘‘Mr Singh is 85 years old now and needs to work on a succession plan.

‘‘So giving these teachers an insight into how education works here could help them be part of that plan.’’

Graeme said because of the secrecy around the OAM he had not celebrated yet.

However, he was off on a winery tour Monday afternoon, which he said would suitably mark the occasion — as well as being a good excuse to get out of the rain.